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London - How do you make a sugar rose? With great difficulty if, like me, you’re all fingers and thumbs. Still, I give it a go, layering curls of pink icing paste around a central bud until I have something that resembles the beautiful bloom.
My tutor in this delicate art is Leah Stevenson, who is teaching me how to decorate the plump little cupcakes I’ve just made in her kitchen at Harrop Fold Farm , near Macclesfield in Cheshire, UK.
At Leah’s Pantry (leahspantry.co.uk), set in an outbuilding off the farmyard, this Cordon Bleu-trained cook teaches the culinary challenged, like me, how to make perfect cupcakes, cakepops and canapés – 11am to 3pm at £65 (R885) – and gives lunch and dinner cookery demonstrations (11am to 3pm and 7.30pm to 11pm; £60), where eager students not only pick up a few tips to thrill their friends, but get to eat the results, too.
Leah’s workshops are only half-day affairs, yet they can turn a few days in the Cheshire countryside into a creative short break.
For this farm, set on the edge of the Peak District National Park, steps from the Gritstone Trail, also features an award-winning B&B (doubles from £95 a night) and a self-catering barn (weekend breaks from £450), both run by Leah’s mother, Sue.
You can brush up your painting techniques here too, with resident artist Michael Moore (£85 a day).
Creative breaks are growing more popular. From self-catering cottages to hotels and tour companies, there’s no shortage of outlets for learning or enhancing a skill while on holiday.
How much time you want to devote to developing your proficiency in cookery, photography, belly dancing or any chosen subject is up to you.
You might just fancy an “experience”, where you can dip into a subject for a few hours, such as Leah’s workshops.
Or maybe you’re hardcore, seeking tuition for several hours each day, as with the short courses in everything from mosaic-making to blacksmithing at West Dean College (www.westdean.org.uk), where you can also enjoy the setting, a 19th-century mansion on the South Downs near Chichester.
It seems taking a holiday that keeps you busy is the new “relaxing escape”. Vanessa Lanssen is chief executive of GoLearnTo.com, which has more than 1 000 learning holidays in 37 countries, from making paints in Spain to mastering butchery in France.
She says this type of break was forecast to be the number one niche-market growth area when she launched her company in 2007.
“And despite the recession, we’ve seen a doubling in demand each year.”
Lanssen was inspired to set up GoLearnTo by her own experience. “It was about switching off, getting my brain out of work mode and into something else. I needed to do something. There’s a feeling of ‘I can’t fail, I’m on holiday, nobody knows me, I’m just going to enjoy it’.”
She designs her courses so that there’s a balance of activity and relaxation.
“We build in downtime. There has to be that restful holiday feeling. There’s time for you to do what you want, time off from the group,” she says. After all, you are supposed to be on a break.
Cook up a treat
On the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Kalkan Magic (kalkanmagic.
com) has teamed up with Guru Restaurant (kalkanguru.com) to offer a taste of the country’s cooking. Choose from two-hour, 75 lira (R324), one-day (150 lira) and three-day (500 lira) courses, and private half-day family lessons (450 lira for up to six), and rustle up sigara borek and imam bayildi.
A week’s self-catering in a two-bedroom flat costs £395 for a family of four. Flights are extra.
There’s an 11-night Jamaican and Caribbean cookery course for £2 095 a person, based on two sharing, via Motmot Travel (motmottravel.com). Learn how to make traditional curried chicken and dumplings. The price includes British Airways flights from Gatwick to Kingston, transfers and transport, plus full board.
What a picture
See the Saxon villages of Transylvania on a five-day photography trip with Authentic Adventures (authenticadventures.co.uk).
Eighteenth-century architecture, meadow landscapes, shepherds and haymakers at work are subjects you’re shown how to frame by a professional, on visits to Sighisoara, Biertan, Richis and Copsa Mica. From £1 749, with BA flights from London to Bucharest on May 12, transfers, full board and tuition.
A glass-painting course inspired by the Pembrokeshire landscapes launches this spring in the Preseli Hills. The four-day course, through Indigo Brown Creative Holidays (indigobrown.co.uk) includes trips to sketch and gather materials. From £525 with tuition, materials and one dinner. Local self-catering costs from £320 for four nights. Dates to be announced.
Learn script-writing from a master – Laurence Marks (of Birds of a Feather and Dreamboats and Petticoats). He leads one-to-one tutorials, team-writing workshops and deconstructing classic films and television series on the seven-night course at the Watermill at Posara (watermill.net) in Tuscany from June 29 to July 6. The price of £1 236 includes transfers from Pisa, tuition and full board. Flights are extra.
You can start that book you’ve been meaning to write with the help of Raffaella Barker, author of nine novels, including Poppyland, over three days in Norfolk.
Barker will use exercises and interactive workshops to free your imagination, while accommodation is provided by Barsham Barns (barshambarns.co.uk) near Blakeney, from £695, full board. Dates include February 25 to March 1, April 22 to 26, June 17 to 21, September 16 to 20, October 14 to 18 and November 11 to 15 .
Dance till you drop
Step out on the dance floor on a week-long salsa holiday in Cuba with Club Dance (clubdanceholidays.co.uk) from £1 499, with tuition at Hotel Nacional, evenings in Havana salsa clubs, Virgin flights from London on October 28, transfers and B&B.
Take your first ballroom and Latin steps with HF Holidays (hfholidays.co.uk). Three-night or four-night breaks at country houses around the UK cost from £329 for three nights’ full board and tuition.
A crafty touch
Quilting, silver-smithing, carving, perfume-making – there’s a course for most crafts. Try knitting the Icelandic way: Lambs and Lopi are the local sweaters, devoted to teaching this tradition. You can meet farmers, learn about wool drying and spinning and design your own jumper, as well as daily knitting classes.
Departs May 24 and costs from £1 890 with Knitting Iceland (knittingiceland.is), with airport transfers, five nights’ full board, classes and materials. Flights extra.
Or learn “green woodwork” with traditional tools at Bedruthan Steps (bedruthan.com) in Cornwall. Choose a project – a woven-topped stool, spoon and bowl, or perhaps a chair – and create your piece with expert help. Two nights from £320 a person, based on two sharing, with full board, tuition and materials included. Dates include June 14 to 16 and September 20 to 22 .
Take a screen test
See yourself as a film-maker? Stay at the Old Rectory Cottages
(premiercottages.co.uk) in Kings Nympton, Devon, for a new four-day course, producing a five-minute documentary with help from professionals Martin Pailthorpe and Ian Damms. From £400, self-catering. Dates until the end of May.
Most cruises have educational programmes to enjoy between shore visits. Now Crystal Cruises (crystalcruises.co.uk) offers an introduction to film-making. Professors from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts (where George Lucas studied) lead the “Digital Film-making: The iPad iMovie Video Course”, during which you can make your own film, learning techniques in editing, graphics voiceover and special effects.
The tuition, which is spread over five hours, is free for guests.
A typical one-week Mediterranean cruise costs about £2 128 this spring, including flights from London, transfers and full board. – The Independent